Netaji: The Hero We Lost

Arun Joshi

Jan 23, 2012, 05:24 PM | Updated May 02, 2016, 04:08 PM IST

I have said that today is the proudest day of my life. For an enslaved people, there can be no greater pride, no higher honour, than to be the first Soldier in the Army of Liberation. But this honour carries with it a corresponding responsibility and I am deeply conscious of it. I assure you that I shall be with you in darkness and in sunshine, in sorrow and in joy, in suffering and in victory. For the present, I can offer you nothing except hunger, thirst, privation, forced marches and death. -Singapore, 1943

Netaji  Subash Chandra Bosehad  been a born rebel, there  was the  anecdote  about  him attacking, the English  lecturer  at  his  college, who had  made  racist  and derogatory  comments  about  Indian natives.   As  he himself  stated  in a speech to the students  at  Amravati in 1929, ” I still remember very clearly the day when my Principal summoned me to his presence and announced his order of suspension and his words still ring in my ears – “You are the most troublesome man in the College.”   The  rebellious, independent  spirit  was present  in  him,  from quite  a long  time, and combined with  his own intelligence, made him one of  the  finest  thinkers  ever.  It  was  this  independent, rebellious  streak,  that  saw him,  give up a lucrative job  with  the  Indian Civil Services,  and  plunge  into  the freedom  struggle.  That  was the time he came across his  mentor   Deshbandhu  Chittaranjan  Das,  an  activist  and freedom fighter,  as  uncompromising  and  rebellious  as  Bose  was.  Deshbandhu  had earlier quit the Congress party, due to differences  with  Gandhiji over the No Council Entry policy,  and formed the Swaraj Party along with Motilal Nehru.

With regard to village self-government, it is not necessary to remind an Indian audience about the village Panchayats — democratic institutions handed down to us from days of yore. Not only democratic but other socio-political doctrines of an advanced character were not unknown to India in the past. Communism, for instance, is not a Western institution. Among the Khasis of Assam, to whom I have referred, private property as an institution does not exist in theory even today. The clan as a whole owns the entire land

C.R.Das, Motilal Nehru, N.C.Kelkar were among the Congress members, who opposed  Gandhiji’s suspension of the Non Cooperation movement in 1923, over the Chauri Chaura  incident, creating a division between them and those who supported Gandhiji’s  decision.   Subash Chandra Bose,  along with Vithalbai Patel  was becoming  increasingly  dissatisfied with the tactics of  the Congress Party, with  both  of  them  favoring an increasingly  militant  and aggresive approach.  Deshbandhu’s  death in 1925, saw a weakening of  the Swaraj  Party, and  Netaji  losing  his  political mentor, which  however did not deter him from action.

Already elected  twice Mayor of  Kolkata,  Netaji  toured  extensively  in Europe  during the 30’s  visiting  Mussolini among the other  leaders,  and  that had an influence  on  his  ideology too.  While  Netaji  was heavily  influenced by  European  nationalist  movements and thinkers,  especially  Garibaldi  and Mazinni,  he  sought  to  combine it  with  the best  of  Indian  political  and  spiritual  traditions,  a  fact resented by the more  left  wing  counterparts  of  his.   He believed  that  most  of  the  existing  political systems  in the West  already were  in  practice  in India for  long,  be  it  Communism, Republicanism  or  Democracy.    What  he looked forward to  was a  philosophy  that  sought  to  combine the best  of  Western political thought  with  institutions  that  were already  existing  in  India.

Indian nationalism is neither narrow, nor selfish, nor aggressive. It is inspired by the highest ideals of the human race, viz., Satyam (the true), Shivam (the good), Sundaram (the beautiful). Nationalism in India has instilled into us truthfulness, honesty, manliness and the spirit of service and sacrifice.

Again  Netaji  did  not  believe  in   one race, one culture  kind  of  unity  that  was propagated  by  most  of  European thinkers.  He  did  not  believe  in  imposing  a dull  uniformity  in the name of  unity,  that  tried  to  suppress  differences.   For  him  true unity  was achieved  only  in respecting  diversity,  accepting  differences,  the  mosaic  pattern  as  opposed  to the standard  melting pot  model.

It  was  precisely  the same  reason,  why  he  was  opposed to the Russian model  of  communism,  though  some  of  his  own  ideals  were  pretty much  on the left  side.   He  was  opposed to the  communists  idea  of  internationalism  and  use of  British  cloth,  I  guess one  reason, why  for  decades, the Communists  refused  to  accept  him.   The  communists  felt  that  the  labor movement  should not  be  linked with Nationalism, to Netaji  both  of  them were not  mutually  exclusive.

In the same province where uniform conditions prevail, Khadi does not make much headway in those tracts which are less poverty stricken. In other words, as long as economic condition of the masses is below a certain level, they gladly take to the spinning wheel; but when that level is reached they have a tendency to look out for a more lucrative employment, whether in agriculture or in industry.

Netaji  again  had  his  own  doubts  on  the  utility  of  the Khadi  movement.  As  he  had  stated  earlier, while  it  was helpful  for  masses,  existing  at  a subsistence  level,  once  they  cross  that  stage,  they  seek  more  gainful  employment.  I guess  a lesson here somewhere  for  the NREGA  scheme masters.   Netaji  believed  that  more  mass  participation  in the freedom movement  was  possible,  only  if  the  issues  that  directly  concerned  them were taken up  along  with  the cause  for freedom.

As  he  put it,  barring  stray  cases  as  in  Bengal, when they took up  the cause of  jute farmers  or  in Gujarat  on nonpayment  of  taxes, “we have seldom been able to make a direct appeal to the economic interests of the masses”.    Netaji’s  impatience  with  the  Congress  party  was  not  just  in  it’s  approach  toward  fighting  for  independence,  he  felt  it  remained  a party  of  the  bourgeois  elite,  far  distanced  from  farmers,  workers  and the  youth.   Netaji  spoke  in a  language  that  reached  out  to the  youth  of  the times,  he  knew and  understood  their  feelings  much  more  than  some  of  the worthies  in  the party.

I mean the kisans, workers and youngmen. These sections have economic or social grievances against the Congress and hence they kept out because the Congress ought to remove the grievances, social and economical and be not content with the political ones only. We ought to bring them into our fold and harness their energies and resources. Unless the Congress is able to identify itself with the cause of the oppressed classes, I cannot see how the congress can push forward its political programme.

The  major  difference  that  caused  a split  between Netaji  and the Gandhi  faction in the Congress,  was  the approach towards  total boycott.  Netaji  felt  that  with the mood of  the nation, totally  for  a boycott,  it made  no  sense to enter the Councils,  it  was the best  time  to exert  pressure on the  British.   He  believed  it  made no  use,  for Indians  to  go to the  Round Table  conference  unless,  they were  given full powers.   He quoted  the example of  the pact  between Britain and  South Africa,  where  the  former  had to  agree  to accept  the  S.African  constitution in full, with  no  changes,  which  is  what  he  sought too.

He  wondered why  the  British had  to send in the  European  Chambers  of Commerce, Ruling  Chiefs  etc, when  this  was  clearly  a matter to be worked  out  between  the  British Govt  and  the  Indian  representatives.   The  differences between him  and  Gandhiji  were too deep,  and  when Netaji  won the  election to the post  of  President  at  the 1939  Tripura  Congress,  Gandhiji  took it  as  his  own defeat.   And  with some  deft manipulations  by  Gandhi’s  clique,  Netaji  was forced  to  resign  from  the  Presidentship  post.

It  was a  poignant  moment,  when Netaji  suffering  from fever,  came on a stretcher  to submit  his  resignation at  the venue, and  to  replace  whom, a  man  called  Bhogaraju  Pattabhi  Sitaramaiah, pretty much  a mediocre  personality,  whose  only  qualification  was  being  Gandhiji’s  yes man.  One  of  the  persons  who  strongly  supported Bose,  was  Pasumpon Muthuramalingam Thevar,   in fact  he  mobilized  the  entire  South  Indian votes  for  Netaj.  Pasumpon  was  also  disillusioned  with  the  Congress inability to  force  the British  to repeal  the  Criminal Tribes  Act,  became  one  of  the key  figures  in the Forward Bloc  founded  by  Netaji,  the  other  key   personalities being  Khurshed Nariman, Senapati Bapat  from Bombay,S.B.Yajee  from Bihar,  S.S.Cavasheer from Punjab.

It will be seen at once that if the principle of freedom is to be applied to society and made the fundamental basis of the society of the future; it will mean nothing short of social revolution. Freedom for the whole of society will mean freedom for woman as well as for man; freedom for the depressed classes and not merely for the higher caste; freedom for the poor and not merely for the rich; freedom for the young and not merely for the old; in other words, freedom for all sections, for all minorities and for all individuals. Thus freedom implies equality and equality connotes fraternity

What Netaji  did not believe  was in a  false kind of  freedom, that  would  only  benefit  the bourgeois  upper  classes  and the elite,  he  like  Bhagat  Singh, sought a genuine freedom  that would  touch  every  section  of  society.  To him, mere  political freedom, without  emancipation  of  the poor, the  depressed classes  and women  was  meaningless. Netaji  was also  influenced by  the ideals of  Swami Vivekananda,  and  Bhagvad Geeta. He  quite often drew  on  India’s  glorious  spiritual past, its  cultural heritage,  yet  he was not  one  to be living  there  forever.  While  influenced  by  European nationalist  thinkers  like  Garibaldi  and Mazinni, with  respect to waging  a political struggle, he  believed  in the spiritual  renaissance of  India.

India possesses all the resources – intellectual, moral and material, which go to make a people great. And India is still living, in spite of her hoary antiquity, because she has to become great once again; because she has a mission to perform.

What  Netaji  believed  in was the idea of  an India, that  would awake  itself  from it’s slumber, and  begin to  be  true  to it’s potential. He  wanted an  India where  citizens  are awake, in ceaseless activity,  or  what he called  our elan vital, a concept  derived  from French philosopher Bergan, which refers to the vital impetus  that  can drive  us to activity and progress. For Netaji  it  was the desire for freedom, for  expression, a  desire to revolt against bondage. Netaji  wanted the people to study the ancient  history,  observe  where the degradation took place. For  him all concepts like  deeksha  or initiation, led to the end goal-freedom.

The Youth Movement is an emblem of our dissatisfaction with the present order of things. It stands for the revolt of Youth against age-long bondage, tyranny and oppression. It seeks to create a new and better world for ourselves and for humanity by removing all shackles and giving the fullest scope to the creative activity of mankind. The Youth Movement is not, therefore, an additional or an exotic growth superimposed on the movements of today. It is a genuine independent movement, the main springs of which lie deeply embedded in human nature.

It  is  precisely  his desire for  complete  revolution and freedom, that  led to  his appeal among the youth, many  of  whom  saw the Congress  as a borgeuois old party, filled  with  old  fashioned  ideals. To Netaji, the youth  movement  was not  just  another  political movement, it  was a holistic  movement  designed to fulfil  the needs of the human soul. For him freedom  and self  fulfilment  were two goals,  that  had to exist together, one without the other  was meaningless.

Little do you know how much Bengali literature has drawn from the earlier history of the Punjab in order to enrich itself and edify its readers. Tales of your heroes have been composed and sung by our great poets including Rabindranath Tagore and some of them are today familiar in every Bengali home. Aphorisms of our saints have been translated into elegant Bengali and they afford solace and inspiration to millions in Bengal.

Netaji had a phenomenal  knowledge  of  Indian history  and culture,  an  aspect that made him  reach  out  to  every  region  in India.  Immensely  proud  of  his  Bengali  heritage  and culture, yet  at  the same  time, he  recognized the  unique  cultural  synthesis  of  India, where  each and every  region, drew  something  from another  region. To him though  India’s  salvation did not lie in living on past  glories,  and  clinging on to  outmoded  theories.  He  felt  that if  India  and Asia,  were  to throw off the yoke  of  Western humiliation,  they had to look forward,  move  ahead.   He  sought  a revolution  of  ideas  in thought, he  desired  a complete  freedom,  where  individuals  could  express, think  and move. A freedom  that  could  unshackle the  mind and  spirit.

So  was the INA  a failure?

In strictly black and white terms, the Indian National Army , was a failure, and too often Bose’s authoritarian control was blamed for it. As the dictum goes History is written by the victors and not the vanquished. Leaving aside the merits of Bose’s strategies and his tactics, if we take it on a broader level, the INA, succeeded on many aspects. The INA was a shining example of how he managed to integrate the different communities of India into one. Bose went beyond the platitudes of Hindu-Muslim bhai, bhai, and Unity in Diversity. He walked the talk. Hindus, Muslim, Sikhs, Parsees all were melded together as one, and he actually created a pan Indian identity.
But more than military victories, the INA, succeeded in winning the hearts of people. Ordinary Indians responded in thousands to his call, people willingly gave money and their gold to him. While all other political leaders just paid mere lip service to cause of women, he raised a woman’s regiment in his army. The INA failed in it’s final assault on Imphal , because of their dependence on Japanese for logistics, and the heavy rain. As also the superior air power of the British.
But it was the later events that would show how successful the INA was. After the war, when 3 officers of the INA, Gen Shah Nawaz Khan, Col Prem Sehgal and Col Gurbux Singh Dhillon were put on trial in the Red Fort, the person defending them was none other than Jawaharlal Nehru, himself, in spite of the fact, that Nehru and Bose differed in their views. Both the Congress and Muslim League, made the defense of the 3 officers a major political issue. The British Government was so alarmed that it had to stop BBC from broadcasting this story.
But it could not prevent mutinies from breaking out in the British Army , especially the one by the Indian soldiers of the Royal Navy. Chennai, Pune, Jabalpur all saw the Indian soldiers rising in mutiny. The British often used the Indian soldiers as cannon fodder, they did all the dirty work, were the persons on front line in conflict and in many World Wars, many Indian soldiers died fighting for the British empire. Yet in grant for this, the British, treated the Indian soldiers as second class citizens, and exploited them. It was Bose’s Indian National Army which sparked the uprising. Years later Clement Atlee , cited the revolts of the Indian Army, as a major decision, to grant independence. Britian already economically and militarily weakened, after WW2, knew that it could no longer trust the Indian armed forces to prop up it’s Raj. So in a way, Bose, contributed significantly to the end of the Raj.
So  was  Netaji too Utopian  for  his  own good?  I  conclude  this  post  with a quote of  what  he  said  about  himself, and leave  it  to  the  readers  to  judge.
Friends, I do not know if you will consider me to be Utopian in my theories or if you will dub me a visionary. But I shall plead guilty if I am accused of being a dreamer and I love my dreams. These dreams are to me as real as the workaday world is to the man in the street. From my dreams I derive inspiration and motive power. Without these dreams I can hardly live for life will lose its meaning and it’s charm. The dream that I love is that of a free India; India resplendent in all her power and glory. I want India to be the mistress of her own household and the queen of her own destiny; I want her to be a free republic with her own army, navy, and airforce and her own ambassadors in the capitals of free countries.

Acknowledgement : This  article  on  Netaji   which  I have written,  was  primarily  based on various  sources  of  information,  and  it  would not  be  fair  on my  part  not  to  acknowledge  the  credit.  Some  of  the  material  here  is  from  two of  my  blog  posts on  Netaji at my  personal  blog,  which  I have  included here.

1)  Netaji’s  Ideology

2)  Was INA a Failure

3)  Netaji’s  Speeches.

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